My Walk to Equality, edited by Rashmii Amoah Bell, Pukpuk Publications, 278 pages. Paperback $US10.53 or Kindle $US1.00. ISBN-10: 1542429242. ISBN-13: 978-1542429245. Available here from Amazon
MY Walk to Equality is a remarkable achievement. Not only as Papua New Guinea’s first anthology of women writers but also for its inclusiveness, breadth of vision and balance.
The 45 writers of these 81 stories, essays and poems originate from many different parts of PNG and its islands.
Their day-jobs include aircraft mechanic, nurse, educator, lawyer, home producer, student and administrator.
They write as mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, friends and neighbours as well as professionals in their respective fields.
Equally diverse are the topics addressed: from village childhoods to competitive urban employment, taking leadership initiatives and engaging in inter-nation events.
The reader is cleverly guided through this rich feast by the anthology’s structure of four main themes: relationships, self-awareness, challenging gender roles and legacies.
The writing sparkles with originality and imagination.
But perhaps most remarkably, My Walk to Equality projects something few books of women’s writing manage to do so well: a clear understanding that gender equality is not simply a women’s issue – it is a complex societal problem that requires attention to male as well as female needs in rapidly changing times.
Among the prose and poetry are moving protests against the physical and psychological abuse so many women in villages and cities contend with. But the contributions also speak of important roles women play in family, community and nation.
These women writers are not victims but aware, self-empowered, strong, active women, and each within her sphere has achieved much.
One indication of their strength is their recognition of the positive roles men can play in gender equality: stories that honour farsighted fathers and uncles, celebrate transformed brothers and husbands, and acknowledge dedicated schoolmasters.
In this sense it is not simply an anthology ‘about and for women’; it is a book for our present world of growing inequalities of all kinds, within and outside Papua New Guinea. Only through gender-balanced leadership can any of us tackle our current challenges both local and global.
While a few of the anthology’s contributors are established writers, others are only now discovering and gaining confidence in their talent.
But it would be misleading to look upon any of them as ‘new voices’ – the cultural roots of their self-expression go back through millennia – rather they are ‘newly heard’ voices or, as one contributor puts it, ‘freely heard’.
The freshness and authenticity of indigenous literature – which no ‘other’ can convincingly appropriate – is here melded with insights embracing the future.
Through their wisdom, optimism and hope, these women’s voices create a significant presence on Papua New Guinea’s literary stage and a worthy addition to the world’s narratives.
Stories wield power. Our freedom, indeed our survival, depends on having our stories heard and listening to those of others.
My Walk to Equality is the first anthology of Papua New Guinea’s women writers – it must not be the last.
Trish Nicholson's most recent book, Inside the Crocodile, was published in 2015. You can read Phil Fitzpatrick's review here. Her next work, A Biography of Story, A Brief History of Humanity, is forthcoming